The 2013 debut of Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ’s Austin food truck was perhaps the first sign that Texas barbecue was entering a period of sustained innovation. But the expansion of ’cue culture isn’t just about tacos. In the four years since we published our previous Top 50 list, we’ve enjoyed meals that draw on Japanese, Vietnamese, and Hawaiian traditions, among others. Slurping the broth of a brisket ramen and dipping a sausage link into a rich curry have become essential culinary experiences in this increasingly diverse state. Pitmasters have also been putting vegetables at the center of the plate, serving “steak” and “wings” made with smoked cauliflower and “pulled pork” consisting of jackfruit pods. Laugh all you want at vegetarian barbecue, but if the price of beef doesn’t drop, the simple pleasure of smoked brisket on butcher paper may soon become a luxury. If that happens, there will be a whole lot of options for those who are looking to broaden their smoky horizons.
Brisket Birria Ramen
225⁰ BBQ, Arlington
Rene and Joyce Ramirez offer a wide menu that ranges from ribs and smoked sausage to brisket-stuffed habaneros. They’ve concocted a rust-hued beef broth as the customary dip for their brisket birria tacos, but they’ve also found another use for the elixir. They add it to a bowl of dry noodles and mix it with sweet corn, chopped brisket, onions, and cilantro for a unique and flavorful ramen.
Smoked Brisket Crunchwrap
CM Smokehouse, Austin
If you’ve ever eaten a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme and thought it’d be better with chopped brisket inside, then you and Cade Mercer think alike. The owner first offered his rendition as an off-menu item when he opened his joint earlier this year. It proved so popular that the dish (also available in a vegetarian-friendly cauliflower version) is now an official item—and CM’s top seller.
Smoked Brisket Bento
Kemuri Tatsu-ya, Austin
Is there anything more entertaining than constructing a Japanese-style hand roll filled with smoky brisket, confit garlic, pickled and fresh vegetables, house-made hot sauce, and a serrano-miso sauce? An accompanying dish that owners Tatsu Aikawa and Takuya Matsumoto call “hippie bone marrow”—a vegetarian offering made with smoked eggplant—only adds to the fun.
ShaneBoy’s Craft Hawaiian Grindz, Fort Worth
Shane Sutton, who grew up on Oahu, serves a Hawaiian-style plate lunch featuring his distinctive pulehu (“quick-charred”) brisket. On a flattop he sears small cubes of smoked brisket coated with his signature aloha sauce—a fruity vinaigrette infused with soy and ginger—to achieve the Hawaiian equivalent of burnt ends. It’s an irresistible collision of flavors.
Brisket Birria Quesitacos
JQ’s Tex-Mex BBQ, Houston
Joseph “JQ” Quellar’s pop-up restaurant has popularized yet another variation on the birria taco that features smoked brisket, smoked oxtail, and shredded cheese in a corn tortilla and is crisped on a griddle. It’s a sturdy taco, dripping with juice, that’s made even more decadent by a dip into a spicy and viscous broth.
Bò Lá Lốt Links
Khói Barbecue, Houston
Brothers Don and Theo Nguyen celebrate their Texas and Asian heritage at a monthly pop-up with offerings such as this one, a variation on a traditional Vietnamese dish, in which they season brisket sausage with lemongrass, honey, fish sauce, and grilled lá lôt leaves. The fish sauce’s umami and the honey’s sweetness tame the leaves’ medicinal edge.
Brisket Smoke Show
Curry Boys BBQ, San Antonio
At this year-old establishment, Andrew Ho and Sean Wen craft a trio of curries and combine them with smoked meats and jasmine rice in bowls fragrant with lemongrass and garlic. Our favorite is the green curry ladled over brisket or button mushrooms. Sides of chile-garlic noodles and herb-and-cucumber slaw complete the happy marriage of Texan and Southeast Asian cuisines.
This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Ramen Get It!” Subscribe today.